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Jacquie:

Hello and thank you for viewing our interview with Professor William, or Bill, Lovegrove the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Southern Queensland. My name is Jacquie McDonald and I work as a Learning and Teaching Designer at USQ. I also work with communities of practice and have been working with them since 2006.

Since our pilot community of practice in 2006, we’ve grown to over 22 communities of practice across the university. Since his appointment as Vice-Chancellor at USQ, Professor Lovegrove has strengthened the university’s reputation as an international leader in e-learning and distance education. We’ve seen USQ win recognition in student satisfaction and staff satisfaction at their workplace. I believe these activities of academic and professional staff within the communities of practice have assisted in achieving these important staff and student outcomes. Professor Lovegrove has been extremely supportive of USQ communities of practice and has a significant role as a community of practice champion.

Etienne Wenger introduced the role of champion in a number of publications. The champion is typically an executive who has a vision of the cop potential and can see the connection with the organisation’s mission, goals and strategic planning. That champion is able to envisage the services of the cop over time and should have a sense of how communities of practice can interact and impact across the university.

In this interview I’ll explore with Professor Lovegrove some of his insights into the contribution of communities of practice at USQ and the role of champions in supporting communities of practice.

Professor Lovegrove, for the purpose of this interview could you please outline your leadership role at USQ, University of Southern Queensland?

Professor Lovegrove:

Yes I’ll be pleased to. In my role as Vice-Chancellor I have a major responsibility for setting directions at the university and defining those directions along with the senior staff, and the council of the university ... and then the major job becomes facilitating the achievement of those directions. So it’s really working with staff across the whole university to progress according our plans. 

Jacquie:

Thank you. So focusing on communities of practice, can you briefly outline what you know about the operation of communities of practice?

Professor Lovegrove:

The way I see them is, it’s really staff with a real interest in given areas coming together to share experiences, I guess and develop knowledge help to drive their particular initiatives in areas that they’re quite passionate about. That’s how I understand them ... and I think they’re really useful because it’s people who do the work, helping to drive the work rather than people who sit a level or two above trying to outline how it could be done. It’s people really doing it.

Jacquie:

Right, thank you. And what’s your perception of communities of practice at USQ?

Professor Lovegrove:

Well, I think they work really well at USQ and still are, and I think it’s because they nicely complement the strategic directions that are set. But with strategic directions and with formal structures you can do a fair amount, but you can’t do a lot if the people at the coalface don’t buy into that, and if they don’t have a mechanism for making things happen. And I think the communities of practice give us that on the ground, really, really good way, but an informal way of helping make things happen. So if you go across a whole range of areas of activity at USQ you can see ... it’s almost like people power ... that people are driving really good initiatives in a way that for us fortunately has been really complementary to the strategic directions that have been set.

Jacquie:

Right, thank you. And, maybe you’ve answered this because I was going to ask you how do communities of practice contribute to USQ goals and missions at an institutional and faculty level?

Professor Lovegrove:

Well I think they contribute in a really positive way because it is the doing of the things. And it’s the doing of things by people who are really keen, but I think through the communities of practice more people have probably been made keen. And I also know a really important role in helping deliver on the goals and all the rest is, people who are maybe feeling quite isolated in their jobs find people with like interests and I’ve been told by many people that helps them in their job, helps them in their motivation and of course that helps achieve the goals the university has set.

Jacquie:

Right, okay. And how do the communities of practice fit into the organisational structure of the university?

Professor Lovegrove:

That’s an interesting one that you and I have discussed before, because one characteristic of communities of practice is they’re not necessarily formal structures and there’s a resistance to formalize them too much because they can lose some of their spontaneity.  So I them as being not formally tied into anything, but I think – and we have tried to do this now – they should be tied into our budgets so there is some formal structure and some formal financial support to make sure that they don’t have to survive by begging, that they’ve got money to serve the good purpose. But what I’m told, by you and others, is they’re probably better off not being too tied into formal structures.

Jacquie:

Yeah, right. And, are you aware of any particular benefits that have emerged from the operation of the communities at USQ?

Professor Lovegrove:

Oh, I would have thought in areas of learning and teaching you could plot direct benefits that come out of it. In the international arena I can see benefits having come. And I guess the greatest whole of university benefit was reflected in the AUQA commendation that just said how well we’re doing through communities of practice and how they’re contributing back into the main aims of the university.

Jacquie:

Then one of your initiatives this year was to invite the communities of practice to contribute to the UR USQ Forum where there was an opportunity for the members to present to a whole USQ forum to senior management.

Professor Lovegrove:

I’m glad you reminded me of that because going back to how the communities of practice can fit into the structures and play a more effective role; I think that was a good pilot thing to do because communities of practice can be more effective if there is a way of plugging into the formal structures and that was a good first attempt at that. And I really think there should be more of that because as I keep saying, it is people on the ground doing the work and you often know the issues much better, and finding a way of capturing that knowledge and feeding it back in is really important.

Jacquie:

And I think that’s one of the roles you have as a champion; you can see what’s going right across the university and then create the opportunities to benefit from the cop operation, then to feed up and have senior management respond to some of those issues.

Professor Lovegrove:

I think that’s right. All of the senior managers in the university would get a perspective to look much broadly across the university, and I guess one of the really rewarding things for me over many areas is to link good people doing good things from different sections of the university with each other to make it a more whole of university drive, and so I agree with that.

Jacquie:

Then, what do you think are the potential drawbacks or obstacles in the operation of communities of practice?

Professor Lovegrove:

Well, if you had a theoretical situation where the communities of practice were heading in different directions from the formal planning structure that would be a real handicap. I would hope good management would listen to what the communities of practice are saying to get more alignment. I think that’s an issue, or a potential issue. I think working out how this informal structure fits into the formal structure is something – it’s not a problem – but it’s something that needs, I think, monitoring and good attention.

Jacquie:

Yeah, because it’s quite a different structure and I notice that quite a few of the facilitators are taking a leadership role in those communities of practice where they don’t have an institutional leadership role but they are stepping up and growing in that role.

Professor Lovegrove:

Yeah

Jacquie:

So, what would be your advice then, what can be done to overcome those obstacles or drawbacks?

Professor Lovegrove:

Oh I think lots of good communication, lots of good dialogue. I imagine that the new Vice-Chancellor won’t be here very long before you’ll be knocking on her door. But I think that is important. I think you came alone at least once to VCC. But keeping the communications open, sharing the benefits of what’s happening. I think all of those are important aspects.

Jacquie:

Right, thank you. Then given that CoPs can contribute to the USQ goals and missions, what role, or potential role does senior leadership have in working to establish and support communities of practice.

Professor Lovegrove:

Yeah well, you know in our planning structure at the moment we still have goal stewards so there’s a person responsible for each goal, I think getting probably better two-way flow between those people and the communities of practice; but also the communities of practice and all of our formal committees. I think there should be almost a formalized opportunity for communities of practice to feed into the committee structures.

Jacquie:

Right, okay thank you. And then, what do see as the future and potential for communities of practice at USQ?

Professor Lovegrove:

Oh, I think they’ll continue to contribute in very positive ways and, I’ve talked on a number of occasions about how communities of practice can help implement the strategic plan, but of course they have a major role to play in developing the next strategic plan, and that opportunity is coming up. So I think there is a real opportunity there for the communities of practice to feed in in a real positive way.

Jacquie:

Okay, thank you. So to wrap up, thank you Professor Lovegrove, you’ve been a great champion and supporter of communities of practice at USQ and that championship role has made a significant contribution and impact to the success of communities of practice at USQ, so thank you.

Professor Lovegrove:

Good thanks. But I think my job, and for most senior managers you’re really ... you’re looking are looking for good things to help facilitate, and this has been one of those.

Jacquie:

Thank you

Professor Lovegrove:

Good thanks.